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La mer est plus belle que les cathédrales (1891) L81


Part of a series or song cycle:

Trois Mélodies sur des poèmes de Paul Verlaine (L81)


La mer est plus belle que les cathédrales

La mer est plus belle
Que les cathédrales,
Nourrice fidèle,
Berceuse de râles,
La mer sur qui prie
La Vierge Marie!
Elle a tous les dons
Terribles et doux.
J’entends ses pardons
Gronder ses courroux.
Cette immensité
N’a rien d’entêté.
Oh! si patiente,
Même quand méchante!
Un souffle ami hante
La vague, et nous chante:
«Vous, sans espérance,
Mourez sans souffrance!»
Et puis, sous les cieux
Qui s’y rient plus clairs,
Elle a des airs bleus,
Roses, gris et verts …
Plus belle que tous,
Meilleure que nous!

The sea is lovelier than the cathedrals

The sea is lovelier
Than the cathedrals;
A faithful wet-nurse
Lulling those in the grip of death,
The sea over which
The Virgin Mary prays!
It has all the qualities,
Awesome and sweet.
I hear its forgiveness
Scolding its wrath …
This immensity
Is without wilfulness.
Oh, so forbearing,
Even when wicked!
A friendly breath haunts
The wave, and sings to us:
‘You without hope,
May you die without pain!’
And then beneath the skies,
Reflected there more brightly,
It seems blue,
Pink, grey, and green …
Lovelier than all,
Better than we!
Translation © Richard Stokes, author of A French Song Companion (Oxford, 2000)

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Composer

(Achille) Claude Debussy was a French composer. He is sometimes seen as the first Impressionist composer, although he vigorously rejected the term. He was among the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Poet

Paul-Marie Verlaine was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement. He is considered one of the greatest representatives of the fin de siècle in international and French poetry.
Born in Metz, Verlaine was educated at the Lycée Impérial Bonaparte (now the Lycée Condorcet) in Paris and then took up a post in the civil service. He began writing poetry at an early age, and was initially influenced by the Parnassien movement and its leader, Leconte de Lisle. Verlaine's first published poem was published in 1863 in La Revue du progrès, a publication founded by poet Louis-Xavier de Ricard. Verlaine was a frequenter of the salon of the Marquise de Ricard (Louis-Xavier de Ricard's mother) at 10 Boulevard des Batignolles and other social venues, where he rubbed shoulders with prominent artistic figures of the day: Anatole France, Emmanuel Chabrier, inventor-poet and humorist Charles Cros, the cynical anti-bourgeois idealist Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Théodore de Banville, François Coppée, Jose-Maria de Heredia, Leconte de Lisle, Catulle Mendes and others. Verlaine's first published collection, Poèmes saturniens (1866), though adversely commented upon by Sainte-Beuve, established him as a poet of promise and originality.

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